By Jeff Mullin, columnist
ENID, Okla. —
Last night, President Obama addressed a joint session of Congress and detailed the State of the Union.
Presidents have been delivering this speech since George Washington, who gave the first such address Jan. 8, 1790, in New York City, then the nation’s capital.
Until 1934, it was known as “the president’s annual message to Congress,” but Franklin D. Roosevelt coined the term State of the Union in 1934, though the name didn’t really catch on until 1947.
The speeches are usually a mixture of the president’s assessment of where the country stands in terms of its standing in the world and his agenda for the coming year.
Some of the speeches have been truly memorable. In 1823, James Monroe first stated the “Monroe Doctrine,” saying that any efforts to interfere with countries in North or South America would be considered acts of aggression requiring U.S. intervention.
In 1941, FDR spoke of the “Four Freedoms,” that people everywhere in the world should enjoy — freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear.
In 1964, Lyndon Johnson declared the “War on Poverty” in his State of the Union address, while in 2002, George W. Bush referred to North Korea, Iran and Iraq as an “Axis of Evil.”
History will judge the significance and lasting importance of the president’s address Tuesday night, but presently, the state of the union seems to be OK at best.
The economy’s better than it was, but not as good as it could be. There are still far too many people who want work who can’t find it, and far too many who don’t want to work living off the government dole.
Our economy is facing another blow in coming weeks if Congress and the president can’t reach agreement on how to handle the sequestration budget cuts that are set to go into effect March 1, which will slash $500 billion from defense and $700 billion from non-defense spending in this fiscal year alone. The cuts will damage our economic recovery, but the Republicans and Democrats seem willing to let that happen in order to lay blame on the other side.
We all agree far too many people are being murdered every year in this country, the majority of the killings done with guns, but there seems to be no consensus of what to do about it.
We are winding down the war in Afghanistan, with the president announcing the withdrawal of 34,000 U.S. troops from that war-torn country within a year, but are still facing possible hot spots in chaotic Syria and ever-defiant North Korea.
So what’s the state of your union? Most of us are primarily concerned about providing for our families, paying our bills, and making sure our loved ones are well, safe and happy.
Most of us are far from “One Percenters,” but rather must be concerned about just where our hard-earned money goes.
Congressfolk are different from you and me. The average senator or representative earns $174,000 per year, roughly 3.4 times the pay of the average American.
Congressional leadership is paid more. The party leaders in the Senate and House, for instance, are paid $193,400, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, while the House speaker is paid $223,500.
So it is difficult to know if our elected officials really know what those of us out here in the real world are going through.
We don’t ask for much, just a roof over our head, food on the table and a little cash in our pockets. We want our children to grow up happy and healthy, we want to live without too much government interference, but we want the government to protect us and to intervene in the aftermath of natural disasters.
We worry about having enough money for our retirement and we are fearful of the kind of country we are bequeathing our children. We want our government to work for us, not against us.
This country was built by hard-working, law-abiding immigrants who came here in search of a better life, and we should never lose sight of that fact as we debate the illegal immigration issue.
In short, the state of the union is strong, but imperfect, our people united by our love for freedom but divided by our ideas on just what constitutes a free nation.
In other words, it has been pretty much business as usual in a united nation populated by strong-minded individuals.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.